Monday, December 06, 2010

MADD's Addictive Behavior - The Solution!

MADD for more than 25 years has demanded and received the passage of numerous draconian laws and a tyrannical enforcement of those same laws; today, a growing movement challenges their basic claims and their accomplishments, pointing out that not only did the harsh laws NOT solve the problems of drunk-driving deaths, but has actually aggravated other problems in society.

But if we get rid of the MADD solution which is no solution, what can we do about drunk driving, about the thousands killed and tens of thousands injured, many maimed, by alcohol abuse?

The libertarian solution is to hold parents responsible for their children, which today is defined as anyone under 18; and to hold anyone who is an "adult" responsible for the RESULTS of their actions as well as their actions.

While this might be done through various government actions (even in a minarchist society), history shows that it is best done through private, voluntary, society-wide actions. Indeed, the one good thing that MADD has done is to create a general condition in society that drinking and driving while intoxicated is wrong and that those who do so are shunned and punished voluntarily by their friends, families, and neighbors. It is a solution which has worked well in many other nations, and even in many elements of society and localities in the United States: consider Utah, tee-total Baptist and Christian communities, and indeed, many colleges. For these situations, the draconian federally-mandated laws about underage drinking often do serve only to weaken the society's own systems.

Failing that solution (which many will call utopian), there are many other alternatives to the current age-based strictures. Not all are libertarian, by any means, but offer advantages over the MADD-addictive behavior we now suffer.

One of the reason for high death rates in many areas in the pre-21 law era was the irresponsible behavior of those who lived near borders of states with lower drinking ages. For example, high death rates from alcohol-related accidents were a given in the 1970s and 1980s on US-85 between Greeley, Colorado (home of University of Northern Colorado) and Cheyenne, Wyoming; and US-287 between Fort Collins (home of Colorado State University) and Laramie, Wyoming (home of University of Wyoming). Wyoming was an 18-state, and Colorado a 21-state. It was NOT UW students or Air Force personnel from Cheyenne that were dying on those roads: it was 18-20 year-old Colorado college students who were going to Wyoming, getting drunk, and then driving 50-80 miles home that were killing and getting killed. Same thing in border college towns in South Dakota (next to Wyoming) and Kansas (next to Missouri). College students weren't being, and aren't being, held responsible for their actions.

I seriously doubt that fewer CSU and UNC students are drinking today (and drinking underage) - they are just doing it in their home town, instead of playing law games and doing it "legally" in another state. And so they are less likely to be driving, and not having to drive as far, while plastered. But they are, as the college presidents point out, growing used to ignoring, indeed scorning, the law and the breaking of the law just adds to the enticement of rebellion.

One size does NOT fit all - whether that size is measured in years of age or percentage of alcohol in the blood.

One (admittedly governmentally-based) solution is to allow only "responsible citizens" to drink. How do you define responsibility? It could be based on very easily measurable standards, like a high school diploma and a responsible job, degree from college, or completion of a first tour of duty in the military; or by more exact and not so easily determined standards, like supporting yourself withOUT government or parental grants and loans; or demonstrating maturity in some other way. (Those not demonstrating responsibility and competence might get "driving permits" which prohibit their driving during certain times of day, or which require additional safeguards like on-board testing of reflexes or breath.) But that will only work IF people are held accountable for their actions. If they demonstrate that despite their degree or their duty or their income-earning ability that they are NOT responsible, then they need to be treated accordingly: if they lose their right to drive, so too should their right to vote, their right to sign contracts, indeed, their right to be an adult, be removed.

The only real justification for prisons (as compared to restorative justice - paying back what is owed) is the same as for capital punishment: to protect society from someone who has demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to not harm others. No, I am not advocating prison for drunk drivers; but I am saying that instead of treating all 18-20 year olds as criminals and the lowest dregs of society, let us treat ALL abusers of alcohol as children who must be prevented from harming themselves and the rest of us.

This of course has to be tied into an accurate identification of what constitutes "impaired" and "under the influence." People ARE NOT THE SAME. One person may be dead drunk at 0.12 but another at 0.15; one may have their reflexes and judgment seriously impaired at 0.08, another at 0.12, but a third at 0.06. But tests for content (breath or blood) are simple and mandated. What is needed is a test of results: a modern day version of walking the line and other sobriety checks. Frankly, some people couldn't pass a proper range of tests demonstrating they are capable of handling an automobile at high speeds if they were stone-cold sober since Nixon resigned - and shouldn't be allowed to drive any more than the woman who blew 0.41.

Whatever is done, we have to end once and for all the idea that government - whether "guided by" MADD or not - is the solution to every problem.

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